Biography

Pistol shooter Greg Yelavich has set some Commonwealth Games records that will take a power of beating. The Aucklander, born in Otahuhu in 1957, has represented New Zealand in seven Commonwealth Games and won a record 12 medals – 2 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze. He won medals at six Games. Yet he didn’t begin his Commonwealth Games career until 1986, when he was 29 and still a relative unknown. He didn’t expect to be picked that year. After winning two gold medals and a bronze in Edinburgh, he said: “I wouldn’t even have been here if it wasn’t to partner Barrie Wickens in the pairs. My best total in the free pistol is 551. The qualifying target was 555. I’d never have been selected if it wasn’t for the other reason. Yet 551 won the free pistol. It just shows you.” His 551 gave him a two-point margin over silver medallists Phil Adams of Australia, the favourite, and Ho Kar Fai of Hong Kong. Yelavich had the New Zealand media smiling as he traced his preparation for his the 10m air pistol, in which he also won gold. “I was so excited about winning the first gold I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed thinking about being a Commonwealth Games champion and then I started thinking about the air pistol. That made me more nervous. I just couldn’t sleep. “Finally at about 5am I got up and started walking around. It was pathetic. “Then later in the morning, I went into town on the bus. On the way back, we got caught in the traffic. I had to run back to the venue and only got there five minutes before it was about to start. I was in a really flutter about that. “Normally I like to do some exercises… a bit of gentle jogging, some press-ups, sit-ups and stretching. Then I like to hold the pistol in one hand for about 30 seconds to keep my muscles tight. It steadies my muscles. There was none of that. It was one mad panic.” In the air pistol, Yelavich totalled 575 to nudge out Canadian Tom Guinn and Uri Gilbert of Hong Kong, who were joint second with 574. Yelavich was extremely modest in victory. “Look, I know I’m not in the same league as some of the shooters I beat. I don’t know why their scores here are so low. I’ve never shot any higher, but some of the others are way ahead of me. I guess it’s just been my week.” It was the start of a magnificent Commonwealth Games career for Yelavich, who dominated New Zealand pistol shooting for the best part of three decades. At Edinburgh he and Wickens combined for a bronze medal in the 10m air pistol pair and were fifth in the 50m free pistol pair. Then it was on to Auckland 1990 and a home Commonwealth Games. This time there was a lot more pressure on Yelavich, who was a marked man after his Edinburgh successes. He competed in six events. In the 50m free pistol pair he and Brian Read took the silver, though their 1144 total was well behind the winners, Adams and Bengt Sangstrom of Australia. Yelavich finished sixth in the 50m individual event. In the centre fire pistol pair, Yelavich and Barry O’Neale picked up another silver, again behind Australia. Yelavich managed sixth in the individual event. In the 10m air pistol pair, Yelavich and Julian Lawton took the bronze with a total of 1137, a whisker behind Bangladesh and Australia, who finished on 1138. Yelavich was seventh in the individual section of this event. So after two games, he had six medals, and was well on his way to Commonwealth Games fame. At Victoria, Canada in 1974, Yelavich again lined up in six events. In the 50m free pistol pair, he and Julian Lawton were silver medallists behind Australians Adams and Sangstrom. Yelavich was seventh in the individual section. In the centre fire pair, Yelavich and Jason Wakeling were fifth, and Yelavich picked up the bronze in the individual event. In the 10m air pistol pair, Yelavich and Julian Lawton were seven in the pair and Yelavich earned another bronze in the individual event. Yelavich again had a heavy workload at Kuala Lumpur in the 1998 Commonwealth Games. He was eighth in the centre fire individual event and he and Wakeling were seventh in the pair. In the 50m free pistol, he finished ninth in both the individual and pair, again with Wakeling. Yelavich picked up his only medal of the Games in the 10m air pistol individual event, behind Englishman Michael Gault and Jaspal Rana of India. In the 10m air pistol pair, he and Mike Smith were 10th. Manchester, 2002, signalled the first Commonwealth Games since 1986 that Yelavich missed out on a medal. He was seventh with Alan Earle in the 50m free pistol pair and 10th in the individual event. In the 25m standard pistol he was eighth and in the centre fire pistol he was ninth. Yelavich lined up again in Melbourne in 2006. In the 10m air pistol pair he and Yang Wang finished seventh of 19 entrants. In the individual section, Yelavich was 13th. In the centre fire pistol pair, Yelavich and Wakeling were fifth and Yelavich rose to the occasion in the individual event, taking the silver medal. This was a thrilling event in which Shaw Ming On of Singapore, Yelavich and Samaresh Jung of India all finished with totals of 578. This necessitated a shoot-off. Jung was eliminated early and eventually On pipped the New Zealander. In the 50m free pistol pair, Yelavich and Alan Earle were sixth, and Yelavich was 13th in the individual section. By the time of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, Yelavich was 53, and one of New Zealand’s oldest Games competitors ever. He competed in three events, and, just for old time’s sake, won another medal. In the centre fire pistol pair, Yelavich and Earle, competing in their third games as a team, picked up the silver. Yelavich was 17th in the individual section of the centre fire and 7th in the 10m air pistol. What a wonderful Commonwealth Games career. He was given the honour of carrying the New Zealand flag in the closing ceremony in Melbourne in 2006. Yelavich competed in two Olympics, but found the going a lot tougher. In Seoul in 1988 he was 41st in the 50m free pistol event. In Barcelona in 1992 he was 37th in the 50m free pistol event and 22nd in the 10m air pistol. In 1995, Yelavich was awarded an MBE.

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